Kiana Lowes (she/her), Civil Engineering and Society, is the founder and president of McMaster Engineers with Disabilities (MEwD) – the first club of its kind at the university. Drawing from her lived experience with autism and mental health challenges, Lowes created MEwD as a way of building community and improving collective advocacy for Engineering students who, she says, have historically been overlooked.
On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, an annual occasion to join together in support of people with disabilities in our community, Lowes describes MEwD’s beginnings, its current endeavours and what the club hopes to achieve with its motivated executive team.
What inspired you to start MEwD?
MEwD was born at the 2023 IDEA Conference. While there, I spoke with a friend about how astounding it was that there did not exist a group within the Faculty of Engineering to support students with disabilities. I went to the McMaster Engineering Society with my idea and did not expect to lead a team of students; I expected someone to adopt my plans.
Initially, I considered myself incapable of leading a group that is meant to be so impactful, and it made me anxious to think about the possibility of it failing. Since then, my team and I have become much more ambitious with our plans, and we hope to see MEwD thrive. I am incredibly proud of myself and the rest of my teammates for what we have done and will continue to do, and I am endlessly grateful for their work and dedication.
How is MEwD working to build community among students with disabilities?
MEwD hosts various events to bring students with disabilities together and provide them with a safe space to receive guidance and share their experiences. We have hosted collaboration events with McMaster EngiQueers and the Women in Engineering Society. In the future, we have plans to host events with Disability Innovations, Solutions and Awareness (DISA), a McMaster Student Union club, and Engineers without Borders. Additionally, we have a small but mighty mentorship program where students can receive guidance and mentorship from upper-year students or students with more experience with specific diagnoses or dealing with systemic issues.
In what ways can people with disabilities contribute to strengthening the field of engineering through diverse lived experiences?
Engineering is a field of study where our goal is to impact people’s lives positively. To properly understand what our clients need, diverse lived experiences are essential for providing different perspectives. Our contributions hold the same weight and validity as any other engineer’s.
How does the club promote a supportive and inclusive environment for students, both academically and socially?
One of the most critical ways that MEwD promotes a supportive and inclusive environment for students is by understanding that a person can identify as having a disability without having a diagnosis. Diagnoses can be time-consuming and expensive to obtain, and having a disability and not having the support you need can be physically and mentally exhausting. In terms of social inclusion, we try to make our events as accessible as possible with the resources that we have.
In what ways does MEwD collaborate with McMaster’s Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to increase impact for students?
The newly hired SAS Liaisons within the MEwD executive team are currently building a plan with the Director of SAS to bring more understanding to the specific needs of students with disabilities. There’s room for improvement to ensure students are well supported in having their accommodations actioned and aren’t expected to always advocate for themselves.
What legacy do you hope MEwD to have at McMaster?
I want the legacy that MEwD has to go far beyond just McMaster. I would like to play a part in the growth of other Engineers with Disabilities branches in other universities across the country. This may be ambitious, but giving students with disabilities a supportive environment to grow and thrive is incredibly important for their success in university and beyond.
What does membership in MEwD look like? How can students engage?
Students can become involved in a variety of ways! Our executive team is formed from students who applied and were interviewed for the positions they were interested in. Students not associated with the executive team are referred to as general members. They can become involved by giving input and feedback on our work, participating in our mentorship program, or coming out to our events! If you want to connect with us online, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @mcmasterewd on Instagram.